United rolls out ‘Skip Waitlist’ upgrade option on many more routes

Jun 16, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. 

United Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services members are familiar with the airline’s PlusPoints upgrade platform, which gives elite flyers more options for moving up a cabin or two — frequent flyers can book economy and fly in Polaris business class by booking with a combination of cash and PlusPoints, for example.

One especially intriguing redemption option is something United calls Skip Waitlist, which lets flyers redeem additional PlusPoints to confirm an upgrade at booking, when they would have had to take their chances with the waitlist in the past.

How Skip Waitlist works

Skip Waitlist is only available with long-haul international itineraries — if you use the option to confirm your spot in Premium Plus or Polaris, you’ll still be waitlisted for any domestic legs, unless there’s upgrade availability for those segments at booking.

Initially, Skip Waitlist was only available on select flights between North America and South America, but the airline has now rolled out the program to transatlantic flights, and you may find it on additional long-haul routes, too.

Generally, Skip Waitlist requires 70 PlusPoints to move from economy to Premium Plus and 140 PlusPoints to move from economy to business.

For travel through Sept. 15, 2021, you can book Skip Waitlist awards at a discount on flights between the U.S. and Europe, at 50 PlusPoints to confirm Premium Plus, 70 to move from Premium Plus to business and 100 to upgrade from economy to business.

Still, that’s an enormous premium, compared to other redemption options:

  • Economy to domestic first/regional business: 20 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Premium Plus: 20 PlusPoints
  • Premium Plus to Polaris: 30 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to ANA business (G, E, U, M, Y, B): 40 PlusPoints
  • Business to ANA first (J, C, D): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Copa business: 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Lufthansa business (G, E, Y, B, M, U, H, Q): 40 PlusPoints
  • Business to Lufthansa first (J, C, D): 40 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Premium Plus (Skip Waitlist): 70 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (S, T, L, K, G): 80 PlusPoints
  • Economy to Polaris (Skip Waitlist): 140 PlusPoints

There’s another big catch: “Once you request a Skip Waitlist upgrade on an itinerary, that upgrade is confirmed immediately and cannot be cancelled or moved to another flight. If you change flights, you will not be refunded the PlusPoints for your Skip Waitlist upgrade.”

Additionally, you can only use this option to upgrade on your own flights — you can bump up other travelers, too, but they need to be on the same itinerary.

Searching for Skip Waitlist

First, you’ll need to use a special method to identify eligible flights. After logging into a MileagePlus account with a current PlusPoints balance, head over to the “Advanced search” option and enter your origin, destination and travel dates.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

From there, scroll down to the “Upgrades, certificates, and promotion codes” section and select “PlusPoints upgrades,” then conduct your search.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

If there are eligible flights available, you can identify them easily by selecting the “Available only and Skip Waitlist” option.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Notably, Skip Waitlist availability doesn’t appear to be tied to any specific fare class — the lowest revenue business or premium economy fare classes don’t necessarily need to be available. Additionally, you may see the Skip Waitlist option on previously booked flights — you’ll be able to select it when viewing your upgrade options.

Sample flights

While the Skip Waitlist option was initially only available on flights between North America and South America, you may see it on flights to Europe and other regions now. As you can see below, it’s only possible to upgrade from discounted economy fares to Premium Plus — you need to book “W” class or higher in order to lock in a business-class upgrade.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Be sure to pay attention to all options — with the example below, by purchasing a Premium Economy fare instead of regular coach, you’ll save both cash and PlusPoints to move up to business class.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Bottom line

Skip Waitlist has the potential to be quite useful to elites with significant PlusPoints balances, but it’s important to note all of the restrictions:

  • Skip Waitlist is not available within 14 days of departure
  • You must book W class or higher for Polaris
  • Domestic flights are not eligible
  • You can only use Skip Waitlist to upgrade your own flights
  • PlusPoints will not be returned if you change your flights

Assuming those terms work for you — and you have the PlusPoints to spare — it may make sense to book.

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